Sunday, April 29, 2007

Make Celil case 'urgent priority,' wife urges MacKay

Last Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2007 | 3:26 PM ET

The wife of a Canadian citizen imprisoned in China and Amnesty Canada are calling on the foreign affairs minister to make the case a key issue during his upcoming visit to China.

Kamila Telendibaeva, whose husband, Huseyin Celil, is serving a life sentence in a Chinese prison, held a news conference in Ottawa Thursday with her lawyer, Chris MacLeod, and Amnesty Canada secretary-general Alex Neve.

She called on Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay to make her husband's case an "urgent priority" during his visit to China.

Telendibaeva hasn't seen her husband since 2006, when he was arrested while visiting his wife's family in Uzbekistan. She lives in Burlington, Ont., with their four children.

A member of China's minority Muslim Uighurs, Celil, 38, was extradited to China to face charges laid in the early 1990s.

MacLeod called on MacKay, who begins a three-day visit to China Sunday, to request an investigation into Celil's treatment in China. He was denied access to Canadian consular officials and his family alleges he was tortured.

"It's an affront to Canada and it's something we'd ask Minister MacKay to push for," said MacLeod.

"He has a valuable opportunity to put the case at the top of the agenda, to raise it firmly and constructively. It's vital the minister make it ... clear Canada demands and expects unhindered consular access to him."

While MacKay has said he plans to raise the issue during his visit, China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday said Canada has no right to interfere in Celil's case.

Special envoy sought

MacLeod and Neve repeated their call for an independent, non-partisan special envoy to co-ordinate Canada's future response to the case.

The envoy could work within the many facets of the Canada-China relationship — economic, cultural, political — and not be confined to the "formality of legal provisions," said Neve.

MacLeod said China isn't recognizing its own nationalities law that states Chinese lose their citizenship when they become citizens of another country.

"China is sending a message to the Uighur diaspora, telling them 'you can't hide behind another citizenship,'" said MacLeod.

Celil was arrested in 1994 after setting up a political party for the Muslim Uighurs.

Chinese officials also alleged he helped assassinate a political leader in Kyrgyzstan. Celil's family and lawyer have denied that allegation.

Celil escaped prison and later applied for refugee status in 2001 in Turkey, eventually becoming a Canadian citizen and settling in Burlington.

Celil received a life sentence April 19 and has 10 days to appeal the sentence. He was convicted on the crimes of "separating China" and "organizing, leading and participating in terrorist groups, organizations."

Canada has expressed its concern with the sentence, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper raised Celil's case with China's president during a visit last November.

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